I certainly agree that we need to do all we can to ensure that those in our constituency, and indeed across the country, have high quality mobile signal and decent coverage, from a range of operators. As part of a debate I’ll be leading on the universal service obligation, it’s an issue I shall be raising in Parliament myself before Christmas.
Ofcom is responsible for the health of the UK mobile market, in line with its statutory duties. These duties include the promotion of competition and efficient use of spectrum.
Ofcom recently launched a consultation on the upcoming spectrum auction. The auction consists of 2.3 GHz spectrum, which is already useable for better 4G services and 3.4 GHz spectrum which is unlikely to be useable for at least two to three years, but could help unlock a new wave of future services such as 5G. You can see more information about the consultation, which is open until 20th January, and contribute your views via the following link: https://www.ofcom.org.uk/consultations-and-statements/category-1/award-of-the-spectrum-bands.
I know that Ofcom agrees that there is a competition concern around the 2.3 GHz spectrum available and it has therefore imposed a cap on bidding. The cap prevents any one company holding more than 45 per cent of spectrum that can be used immediately after the auction. It also argues that by the time 3.4 GHz spectrum is usable, other bands will become available and there is therefore no immediate necessity for action on competition grounds in respect of this spectrum.
Ofcom has also been clear that its intervention has been minimal as it does not want to distort the auction by giving the smaller operators a price break through the weakening of competition. Furthermore, there are concerns it would provide a perverse incentive for smaller operators to under-bid in this and future auctions if they always expected intervention in their favour on grounds of lacking spectrum.
I join the Government in welcoming Ofcom’s focus on ensuring effective competition in the mobile market and on getting the spectrum into use as quickly as possible, and will certainly be paying close attention to developments in this area.